Read Time: 5mins
“Stop, thief!” came the wheezing cries of a heavyset man, his feet pounding against the frozen cobbles as he skidded awkwardly into the bustling marketplace.
A young boy, the focus of the man’s attention, shot a smug glance towards his pursuer, before diving under a trader’s stall littered with the sort of ornate paraphernalia he could never hope to obtain through legal means.
Crawling quickly, he moved like a wild animal from one table to another, his bare and frostbitten feet digging into a blanket of crisp morning snow. Stopping for a moment to stuff the freshly baked roll into a threadbare pocket, he gasped for breath; so far this day had not gone to plan!
Trade day in Celestia had, for as long as Orion could recall, been ‘the day of the opportunist’. A sea of passersby offered him and like-minded individuals a chance to go about their quick-fingered ventures with little consideration; in fact, a talented collector could find themselves with a week’s worth of supplies for just a few hours work.
How then, he wondered, had today gone so badly; caught red-handed with so little to show for his exploits. Peering out from his hiding place, Orion struggled to collect his bearings, his vision obscured by a cluster of shoppers and market traders. Somewhere out there was the man who would see him swing, given a chance. And for what, a single piece of bread? Not today.
The young yikona scampered from his hiding place, bursting back into the city; squinting as his eyes adjusted to the bright white of the snow-laden cityscape. Celestia was a vast and impressive city, the largest in the eastern region by far. Many would have feared to root themselves so deeply into this inhospitable environment, but not the yikona. They had taken the majestic peaks of ice and built upon them functional parts of the city, carved into these impressive blocks and given them purpose. Now, after all these years their continued reliance on the easily accessible ice and snow had left Celestia with its moniker ‘The City of Glass’.
With nimble, catlike movement, Orion launched across the courtyard; if he could make it past Ancestors’ Grace and Thunder Pass unseen, he’d be home free.
Ancestors’ Grace was a sight to behold at this time of day. The warm glow of the early morning sun glistening against the magnificent statue, cast from ice and marble; erected to commemorate those that had given their lives in service of the tribes.
“There he is!” came the rotund merchant’s call, his eyes catching a glimpse of the scrawny boy in mid flight. Now, however, his pointing finger led the focus of a pair of stern-looking city guards, who instantly began their advance.
“There may still be a chance for leniency if you return what you stole,” one of the guards declared dryly, already conscious that his words would come to nothing.
“I prefer the term liberated!” the young opportunist announced, without a second glance.
Orion dashed onward, narrowly missing the flowers and other tributes that lay scattered at the foot of Ancestors’ Grace; his loose-fitting clothing mixed with the energy of youth keeping him one step ahead of the heavy-footed guardsmen as he turned towards Thunder Pass.
Over the last two years, the number of airships landing in Celestia had grown exponentially. Where once a ship would appear every other moon, now you couldn’t look towards the sky without seeing one. As the number of airships grew, so had the importance of Thunder Pass, the great landing pads that filled the area spanning in all directions.
A beaming smile spread across Orion’s face the second his eyes locked on the vessels; the same way it had the very first time he saw one of the magnificent creations, a marvel of engineering combined with powerful magic to create something that felt like it existed outside the realms of reality.
One day, he had told himself. One day, he would take his place at the helm of a ship and set sail for the unknown. Finally, he would find his home in a world that felt like it grew around him, not with him.
Ducking under the exhaust valve of one ship, Orion found himself in the middle of Thunder Pass, surrounded by airships of every nation. Taking a moment to regain his composure, Orion realised the number of guardsmen pursuing his escape had swollen dramatically, where once there were but a pair, now the airfield was home to no fewer than ten.
“I’m not sure this is an adequate use of city funding!” the boy yelled; his quick remark lost next to the roar of a large tyrax vessel, readying itself for liftoff. Slowly, ice began to crack and fall away from its support struts as the sleeping behemoth took flight.
For a moment, the cautious guards broke from their advance as a blizzard of snow tore from the ground around the ship, the powerful engines whipping up a frenzy of ice and sleet.
“This is it now, boy!” The words encircled Orion, as if the blizzard had found a voice of its own.
Turning his attention again to the tyrax airship, which now hung overhead, Orion’s eyes twinkled with life. Not wanting to waste another second, the boy dropped to his knees, his hands digging through the remaining snow.
Furiously he searched from left to right, the silhouettes of his pursuers growing more evident by the second.
Then he felt it like a great serpent hidden below the snow; a coarsely wound rope almost impossible to distinguish with his numb fingers, slowly slipping away from his grasp.
Grabbing hold of the rope with all the strength he could muster, he felt the sudden prickle of pain as his nerves jolted back to consciousness and the rope bit into his hands.
Coiling the rope around his waist, Orion prepared himself for the inevitable. Within a matter of seconds, he was on his chest drifting out of control across the landing pad; an unexpected burst of speed sending him crashing through a snowbank, his acceleration growing moment by moment. With a great heave, he was torn from the ground itself, left to swing uncontrollably from the hull of the tyrax airship.
As the chilling wind cut across the young boy’s aching limbs, he felt the rope dig into his waist as it pulled tight. Cautiously at first, he began to work his way up the rope; one hand then the other, gradually drawing himself closer to the safety of the ship’s deck. He would not allow himself to look down, not until he reached his goal.
With a final rush of energy, Orion pulled himself onto the solid ground; never had he been more relieved to feel a hard, unyielding surface rushing up to meet his frail body.
His arms and legs burning from exhaustion, the boy hauled himself to his feet; stretching out a shaking hand to steady himself against the unsure movement of the airship.
Turning his attention to the land below, all he had ever known was gone, just another speck in a world waiting to be discovered.
Today his life would begin, a life of adventure!